Preview: Wizards open four-game road trip Wednesday in Miami
The Wizards are back in action on Wednesday night, taking on the Heat at 8:00 P.M. in Miami in the second game of a back-to-back. Washington fell to the Trail Blazers on Tuesday night at Capital One Arena. Miami last played on Monday, losing to Charlotte by eight points in overtime.
AmericanAirlines Arena | 8:00 P.M. | NBCSW | 1500 AM
Wizards: G – Ish Smith, G – Bradley Beal, F – Deni Avdija, F – Rui Hachimura, C – Robin Lopez
Heat: G – Tyler Herro, G – Duncan Robinson, F – Jimmy Butler, F – Kelly Olynyk, C – Bam Adebayo
Wizards: Thomas Bryant (left ACL injury – out), Raul Neto (left groin tightness – out), Russell Westbrook (rest – out)
Heat: Avery Bradley (right knee contusion – probable), Goran Dragic (right knee soreness – probable), Maurice Harkless (left thigh contusion – out), Tyler Herro (right knee contusion – probable), Meyers Leonard (left shoulder strain – out), Chris Silva (left hip flexor strain – out), Gabe Vincent (right knee soreness – probable)
Wizards embracing a densely packed schedule
The Wizards flew late Tuesday night to Miami to close their home-road back-to-back. Such a travel- and rest-related feat is normally challenging enough, but it’s only heightened for Washington as they simultaneously attempt to work a number of players back into game shape after missing weeks due to health and safety protocols. Wizards head coach Scott Brooks has spoken consistently about the need for patience with guys like Deni Avdija, Rui Hachimura and Davis Bertans – high-minute players who are still working to get their game legs back under them. The challenging reality for the Wizards, due to a heavily condensed schedule, is that most of their conditioning work and acclimation process will have to take place on the court in live game action. Brooks, however, says that’s exactly what the team needs most after missing so many games early in the season.
“I want games, we need games,” Brooks said before Tuesday game against Portland. “Our players love games and we’re all happy to be back and playing and happy to have our team back…As a former player, this is a dream schedule: 16 games in 28 nights…At this stage of the season, we’re not going to have a lot of practices. You get to just go out there and play the game that we love…It’s definitely going to be tough and challenging. I’m not trying to act like it’s not going to be. It’s a lot of games, but we want to play, and we need to play.”
Tuesday night against Portland, four Wizards players played over 30 minutes: Bradley Beal (38), Hachimura (34), Russell Westbrook (33) and Bertans (30).
Hachimura coming off a season-best performance
One Wizards player showing few signs of rust after a lengthy time off the court is Hachimura. Tuesday night, the sophomore forward played his best game of the season in just his third game back from a nearly three-week lapse in game action. Against the Blazers, Hachimura scored a season-high 24 points on 10-12 (.833) from the field and 3-4 (.750) from 3-point range. Hachimura was notably aggressive against Portland. His four 3-point attempts tied a season high and his 12 field goal attempts trailed only the 18 shots he took in Washington’s first matchup this season with Miami. But his efficiency was the best of his career. Tuesday’s showing marked the first time he’s shot 80.0% or better from the field in a game in which he attempted at least 10 shots.
“I think he’s getting better conditioning and his confidence – he knows we believe in him,” Brooks said postgame. “It was good. We need him.”
Wizards look to even season series with Heat
Wednesday night’s game marks the second meeting of the season between the Wizards and Heat. Their first meeting, which came on January 9 in D.C., was one of the most eventful of the young season for Washington. Just before the game was set to begin, with both teams going through their pregame warm-ups, the Wizards were informed that Beal was ruled out due to health and safety protocols. With Westbrook (left quadriceps soreness) already ruled out, the team now had a glaring hole in the rotation when it came to shot creation. The Wizards issues were only getting started. Just over a minute into the game, Thomas Bryant, who had averaged 14.3 points and 6.1 rebounds through his first 10 games of the season, suffered a partially torn ACL on an awkward landing, ending his season.
Brooks announced on Tuesday that Bryant underwent successful surgery: “It’s great news. We all miss him. We miss his play, but we miss his great attitude, his commitment to getting better. I miss having him around. He’s been around off-and-on the last couple of weeks. When he comes, you can see everyone is excited. His teammates always love to see him…He’s going tackle that rehab like we know he will and he’s going to be back better than ever sometime next season.”
After Bryant’s injury, the severely shorthanded Wizards then put one of their most up-and-down performances of the season. Washington and Miami combined for 91 points in the first quarter. A four-point Heat lead at halftime quickly ballooned to 24 points in the second half as the Wizards scored just 15 points in the third quarter. But a 38-point fourth quarter, led by Avdija and Garrison Mathews shooting 5-7 (.714) from beyond the arc, cut the lead to single digits in just a few minutes. Mathews, who has a history of going off against the Heat, led Washington with 22 points as their comeback attempt fell just short.